Amy Belcourt: Ancient Egypt and the importance of the afterlife

Ancient Egyptian art is stunning and well known for their human form and storytelling through their art. This exhibit ties together some of the wonderful Ancient Egyptian art and the importance they placed on the afterlife. The Egyptians were as preoccupied with the afterlife as they were with the life they lived. These works incorporate several aspects that the Egyptians embodied to ensure their success into the afterlife. At the time, these pieces were created to assist the elite in their afterlife. Yet these pieces open up the past and show us a hint of the history of ancient Egypt. The first piece is a marker that is one of the earliest artworks of Egypt. It is made of limestone with polychrome paint. The Egyptians used their resources wisely and they used the limestone that surrounded them. The marker of Stele of Zezen-nakht gives insight to what the deceased brought to the gods as an offering and how the king portrayed himself. The marker tells a story of how great the king was and therefore he belongs in the afterlife with the gods. The next piece is a tool named the Painted wooden figure of Osiris that held an important papyrus that allowed the deceased a chance against the tests by the gods. The Osiris holder ensured that the papyrus would not be lost. This statue was a miniature model of the god of Osiris made of wood and was usually placed in the coffin with the deceased. The next piece of art is a part of the important papyrus titled, Page from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer, which went into the Osiris statue. This artwork shows the steps that the Egyptians believed happened after they passed from this life and what they had to do to get into the next life. These items not only brought comfort to the deceased but also assisted the dead with passing the tests given by Osiris to enter the afterlife. This piece of papyrus was especially important because it made it possible for everyone to enter the afterlife not just the royal and wealthy. The next artwork is a statue made of limestone. This statue was created specifically for Chantress Nehy and for her tomb, and was titled Seated Statue of Nehy. It would bring her comfort and allow a place for her soul in case her body was not acceptable. Egyptians artists made beautiful pieces of art but they also served a purpose. The last piece of artwork in this exhibit proves this point. It is the mummy and mask of Hornedjitef, the actual body of Hornedjitef. The mask and mummy contain painted plaster, linen, gold, human tissue, and resin. The mummy is closely associated with the ancient Egyptians and what they held sacred. The elite were buried in the same manner as the lived, elaborately. While these were funerary objects that helped establish the afterlife for the Egyptians, they exhibit grandeur and awe as works of marvelous art during their lifetimes. The artists that made these pieces were simply creating objects to ease the transition from life to afterlife. They used the resources around them but put their own artistry into each piece. Though these pieces were created years apart they are intertwined with the beauty and significance that the afterlife meant to all Egyptians.

• Unknown artist, Stele of Zezen-nakht, about 2000 BCE, Ancient Egypt, Limestone with stucco and polychrome pigment, w915 x h749 mm, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo This artwork is a free standing marker stone for the tomb of Zezen-nakht, ruler of an area around the Nile, about 2000 BCE. This marker is a traditional Egyptian painting depicting power and nobility. It has a large profile picture of Zezen-nakht on the left. He is dressed in royal attire, with wig, broad necklace, and wrist bands made of red, yellow, and blue beads. He is wearing sandals and is carrying a long staff and scepter, which embodies authority. The rest of the marker is offerings to Zezen-nakht for the afterlife. These are pictures of bread, onions, jars of wine and perfumes, beer, beef, and birds. There are also inscriptions that Zezen-nakht is to be saying to the gods, of offerings and how he, the king was loved by his family when he was alive. The marker is a way for the Egyptians to play out the afterlife, with offerings to eat and drink and offerings of praise to the gods to accept them into the afterlife. The marker describes some of the rituals for the afterlife. The king must plead his case to the gods in order to go to into the afterlife. The marker was just one of many rituals the Egyptians would use to improve their chances to enter the afterlife. The afterlife was just as important to them as the one the Egyptians lived.
• Unknown artist, Painted wooden figure of Osiris, 1295-1186 BCE, Akhmirm, painted wood, H 63.50cm, British Museum, London Osiris was the ruler of the dead. He was one of the gods the kings and royalty of Egypt had to get approval from in order to enter the afterlife. The statue has him in his usual mummified state from the waist down. He is also wearing an Atef crown, a white crown similar to the Upper Egypt, but with ostrich feathers. Osiris carries in his arms a crook and flail that represents a kingship or to justify him as the god of the dead. The upper part of his body is in brightly patterned fabric instead of the white mummy material. Though the statue is small at 63.5 CM it serves a very important purpose. The statue is hollow inside an opens up to reveal a spot to place a rolled up scroll of the Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead is a series of spells which guides the Egyptian to reach the afterlife safely. The wealth would place the scroll of the Book of the Dead into the statue, Osiris which would almost ensure that both would make it to the afterlife. This was another tool the Egyptians would place inside their coffins to help ensure their travel into the afterlife.
• Unknown artist, Page from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer, 1295-1186 BCE, Egypt, painted papyrus, H 40.00cm (max) L 87.50cm (max), British Museum, London This artwork was actually from the Book of the Dead that the Egyptians used to help them enter the afterlife. It was like a map or a list of directions for what they needed to do to pass the tests the gods would give them before they were allowed to enter the afterlife. The scene shows what happened when Hunefer died and entered the place where the tests took place. The god, Anubis brings Hunefer in. Then Anubis oversees the weighing of Hunefer’s heart against the feather, the symbol of Maat, or what is “right”. If the heart was not deemed good then the beast in the middle of the scene would devour Hunefer and he would cease to exist. If he passes the test, then he is brought into a room with Osiris, the god of the dead and his two sisters, Isis and Nephthys. He is brought into the room by the son, Horus. At the top of the papyrus, are deities that Hunefer adores as the watch over the judgment. The picture is one continuous scene without framing or use of blocking to show the different scenes. It seems that everything is happening all at once but is actual a series of events that must take place in order for the Egyptian to enter the afterworld. With the use of these scrolls, Egyptians changed dramatically their belief that only the elite could cross over to the afterlife. It became something that any Egyptian could achieve if given the right scrolls to follow. These became valuable pieces that would ensure at least a chance of entering the afterlife that the Egyptians held so highly.
• Unknown artist, Seated Statue of Nehy, 1250-1230 BCE, Saqqara, Egypt, carved limestone, w45.1 x h132 x d87.8cm, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Many times the wealth would have statues of the deceased created and placed in the tombs with the deceased. This is a statue in a tomb that depicts the profession of Nehy, the deceased. She was a chantress and held a sistrum or rattle in her left hand in order to worship the goddess Hathor. This is one of two known statues of Nehy and based on the size of the statue and her fine attire and hair she was a wealthy Egyptian. This statue exhibits the class and wealth of the deceased as do many statues that are found in tombs. It was only the wealthy that could afford such statues. These statues served a purpose for the deceased as well. The Egyptians were mummified and preserved because they believed their souls would go back into their bodies for the afterlife. If their bodies were found to be unlivable the souls could use the statues as a type of surrogate to replace the bodies of the deceased. This is why the statues are in the likeness of the deceased. It is believed that this statue was at a tomb in Saqqara, the ancient necropolis of Memphis. This too is another great example of beautiful art that served a purpose for the Egyptians in the afterlife.
• Unknown artist, Mummy Mask of Hornedjitef, 222- BCE Ptolemaic period, Ancient Egypt, painted plaster, linen, gold, human tissue, and resin, L 170.00cm, British Museum, London There were many fine artwork found in the tombs of the Egyptians. Much of the artwork actual served a purpose for the deceased to either enter the afterlife or to enjoy the afterlife once they were there. The care of the afterlife did not end with the items placed in the tomb but actual included the deceased as well. Most of us are familiar with Egyptians and mummies. This is a high ranking priest, Hornedjitef; his body is buried in the traditional Egyptian way. We can see that Hornedjitef held a high status due to the elaborate funerary paraphernalia. He was buried in similar fashion as the pharaohs. The use of color and descriptions of funerary scenes on the mummy depict older Egyptian rituals. This may be due to the age of Hornedjitef when he died. They found signs of old age which could imply his wishes for burial were more traditional. The entire body was covered with a cartonnage cover. This cover has beautiful colors of black and gold. Once again, the cover was not just for decoration but served a purpose. There are spells surrounding the brow and head of the mummy that would prevent the head from separating from the body. This would have prevented entry into the afterlife. The detail and care of the deceased became as much an artwork as the works that surrounded the mummy. The Egyptians put great effort into preserving their lives for the afterlife. This included the many beautiful things the wanted to take with them and the items they needed to ensure a safe arrival and acceptance into the afterlife. Their own bodies were not forgotten as great care went into preserving them as well.
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